Philip came running into the house saying the bees were going crazy. He retrieved his phone and went running outside. I followed to see what was going on and was blown away by the tornado of honeybees that was forming in our backyard. Worse yet, the bees were on a mass exodus out of our strongest hive. A massive swarm of honeybees engulfed our yard, now we’d need to work together to capture the swarm and bring them home!
I’d never witnessed a swarm of bees. My high school mascot was the Yellow Jackets, I must admit that I never considered our mascot especially ferocious. However, this week, I gained new appreciate for the ferocious nature of the LHS Swarm!
What’s a swarm?
Its swarm season for honeybees in Florida, which usually takes place in April and May. Bees swarm for two reasons. If the bees feel like the hive is too crowded, they will swarm with the queen and half the hive, creating a natural split. As a beekeeper we can split our own hives when we feel that they are becoming overly crowded in their boxes. The agriculture inspector gave some general guidelines about splits. She even assisted Philip in splitting one of our colonies. This hive was still at a point that they had room for developing honeycomb and had not yet met the threshold for needing to be split by the beekeepers.
The second reason bees might swarm is to leave the hive. In this case the queen takes the entire colony to relocate them. Bees might abandon a colony due to lack of resources: food, or water. They might leave due to parasites or disease or frequent disturbances by humans or animals. The colony might also abscond if there is a problem with the queen.
Interestingly the worker bees drive the swarm. They can detect overcrowding or lack of the queen pheromone production. They will prepare the Queen to swarm by slimming her up to fly and produce queen cells that a new queen can be reared from who will emerge and lead the colony that remains in the hive.
My First Sting Witnessing the Swarm
While Philip is very much enjoying swarm season and is working hard to capture other swarms to build our apiary, our own bees swarming was certainly not what we were hoping for. I was watching the swarm at what I thought was a safe distance, but a bee got stuck in my hair and stung me. From that point on I watched the swarm from the safety of the kitchen window. The bees as a group were not being aggressive, I think that I might have crossed paths with one unintentionally and when she became trapped, she stung.
Hive Inspection: Trying to Locate the Queen
Once the bees began to beard or collect and calm down, I returned outside to see what they were doing. The bees collected on a branch on a tree in our yard. Philip took the opportunity to do a quick inspection of the hive to see if he could locate the queen. I was quite surprised that there were still quite a few bees in the hive. Had we not witnessed the swarm, we would never have known. We did find several queen cells in the hive, which most of them Philip destroyed, but we opted not to destroy them all, just in case our attempts to return the bees to their hive is unsuccessful. Our attempt to locate the queen within the hive was not successful, so its likely the queen was with the swarm.
Philip added another box to the hive and additional frames. While the bees had not maxed out the frames in their current set up, they obviously wanted more space. The fact that the entire hive did not leave, indicates the bees were attempting to split.
Capturing the Swarm
Once the hive was prepared it was time to retrieve the swarm. Luckily, they had bearded together on a tree in our yard and weren’t high in the tree. They were also on branches that were easy to manipulate. Philip cut some of the extra branches around the swarm. Trying not to disturb the swarm best he could. Once he had trimmed the branches it was time to cut the lead branches and remove the swarm. Of course, the action of cutting the lead branch caused a sharp movement, so quickly there were bees flying around Philip, yet the main swarm was intact. He carefully climbed down the ladder and I followed, though I admit, not closely. I told him, I am not sure I am the best beekeeper’s assistant, despite my beekeeper’s jacket, I still find being so close to the bees intimidating, especially after I got stung!
Swarm Returned Home
Philip felt that the swarm weighed about 15 to 20 lbs. When purchasing bees in a 3 lb. package, they are estimated in numbers to be about 10,000 bees. Our swarm was substantial! Philip carefully laid the branch inside the prepared hive, allowing the bees to begin to migrate into the hive on their own. Once he was ready, he gave the branch a firm shake and removed the swarm of bees from the branches. They landed safely in hive and when he was able, he closed the cover on top of the hive.
The Queen is in the House
For now, our bees remain healthy in their numbers. We finally verified that the queen is still present in the hive! Such exciting news! Hopefully, they are happy with the improvements in their hive and choose to stick around. It’s quite an investment to purchase a nuc of bees and be powerless as they fly away!
Exciting Video of the Swarm and their Capture
Enjoy the video of footage as we captured the swarm and returned them to the colony.
Did you miss it?
Read about our purchase of the Nuc here and how we enlarged our apiary. https://kowalskimountain.com/new-neighbors-join-the-hive/
Here’s the reel on Instagram if you missed it
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.
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Want to learn more?
I learned a lot about honeybee swarms from this article… click to learn more about this amazing phenomenon https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=30352#:~:text=Honey%20bees%2C%20Apis%20mellifera%2C%20swarm,Or%20they%20abscond.&text=In%20preparation%20for%20the%20swarm,down%20so%20she%20can%20fly.